Monday, January 9, 2012

Exploring Florida’s Gulf Coast

Jan 2-8, Sarasota and Ft. Myers, Florida
Our itinerary for January includes researching parks from Bradenton south to Naples. We had heard that Sun ‘n Fun in Sarasota was more of a resort atmosphere (with a bar by the pool) so that was our first stop. Well, there was sun but we didn’t find much fun. The worst part of the experience was the site they picked out for our two night stay—squished among four very old trailers in the back of the park. For the price of $70 a night, we were not impressed. Yes, there was a big pool, even an Olympic size indoor pool about to open, and, yes, there was a bar attached to the pool area with music and a dance floor—but—while there were many amenities in this 600+ site park, It just didn’t have the right juju for me. I have heard many good things about the park because it is more of a resort than most parks that claim this title. Perhaps we should have asked for a different site. It is amazing how much one's initial impression and treatment with the park office can color one's view of the whole place. We even tried out the pool bar where they had some live music, but it wasn't a place we felt compelled to hang out in day after day.

While here, we took the opportunity to explore the Sarasota area which we liked very much—especially the famous Siesta Key beach—an amazing expansive beach of glistening white sand. As has been typical in much of Florida, no dogs are allowed on the beach so had to leave the pooches in the motorhome to enjoy the beaches.  
The famous Siesta Key beach--
voted one of the top ten beaches in the world 
Decided to head to Seminole Campground in North Ft. Myers next as this is the place where our new friends, Mike and BJ Shafer (whom we met in Sault Ste. Marie) spend the winter in their 2011 Phaeton.  The campground is just a short distance off I75 and has a real Old Florida campground feeling—no park models, a good mixture of palm trees and live oaks, and fire rings!  The daily rate was $55 a night—a little more than we hoped to find but less than most campgrounds in this area.  We were especially pleased to get a tour of the place before selecting a site (something we will request whenever possible in the future). We found one close to the off-leash dog area and trails which had enough clear skies to get a satellite signal for Dish TV.  A big plus was finding our friends were only just a few sites down from us.  We got together for a few drinks and snack later in the afternoon and then they took us to Hogbodys—a down-home BBQ joint just a mile or two from the campground.  The food was great, it was dollar beer night, and they had decent entertainment in the bar.   A good watering hole near the campground goes on the top ten criteria list. 
After sharing my desire to spend some serious time on the beach, Mike and BJ invited us to go hunting for shark teeth with them the next day.  I hadn’t looked at the map, but it was clear early on this was going to be an adventure.  We headed north about 70 miles to Englewood Beach, one of the places well-known for shark teeth.  The beach was beautiful on an 80 degree day. I learned I wasn’t too good at shark teeth hunting, but felt quite thrilled to find my first unbroken fighting conch shell.  BJ and Mike knew all the names of the various shells and offered tips on how to find the best shells right at the lip of the shoreline.  I could shell hunt for hours with no other care in the world.  Vic went along with the quest but would have been far happier sitting in lounge chair reading a book.  After a day of shelling, we stopped at another RV park in Port Charlotte where we met Roger and Tammie, other friends of Mike and BJs, then took off for dinner at Harpoon Harry’s at Fishermen’s Wharf in Punta Gorda.  The dogs seemed extra glad to see us when we finally returned to our campground, but they quickly recovered.  We had originally only planned to stay three nights as we had reservations in Bonita Springs, but we were able to push those forward until Monday the 9th.
While in the Ft. Myers area, we needed to take the motorhome to the local Tiffin Dealer, NorthTrails Rv.  We pulled up camp on Thursday and took it in for service repairs on the broken mirror on our closet doors and several other small issues that needed attention.  That day we explored the historic area of Ft. Myers downtown and checked out the beach area—which was further than I had hoped from our campground, especially with the snowbird traffic in the area.  We also discovered a Costco close by and happened upon a place called Total Wines—what a place.  Imagine aisles and aisles of wine about 40 ft. long and a discount liquor selection which included Pendleton.  My best find there was Layer Cake wine for $12 and the Maryhill Winemaker’s red blend from Washington that my friends and I enjoyed many times in Corvallis. They also had a good selection of higher end box wines (hard to find) which I had to try as our new friends were enthusiastic wine drinkers like us (more like meJ).

On Saturday, Mike and BJ invited us to join them in going to the Ft. Myers Art fest along the riverfront.  Turned out to be a terrific variety of talented craftsman showing their wares included jewelry that sucked me in. Vic and I also fell in love with some radiant copper art that we agreed we would have bought had we a place for it.  Managed to resist making any purchases but truly enjoyed the event—much like a Corvallis Fall Festival day.

On our last day at Seminole, we decided to visit Sanibel Island, a very popular tourist area that has a lot of charm (no high rises or chain stores) and is best known for being one of the best shelling beaches in the world.  One of the first things that struck is (aside from the intense traffic getting on and off the island) was how bike and dog friendly the island is.  There is a separate bike trail that runs the whole length of the island.  We knew that dogs were allowed on leashes here, so we chose to bring the dogs on our first visit here.  There are several different beaches on the island, but we had heard Bowman's was a favorite; it did not dissappoint in any way.  I was able to collect a great variety of shells and the dogs enjoyed playing in the surf and making new friends. 

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